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Sports

LSC Media Day: Lions Are The Best, How About The Rest?

For the third straight year, the A&M-Commerce Lions football team was the preseason favorite to take the Lone Star Conference Championship as announced Tuesday in San Antonio. But what about the rest of the conference? Which team(s) will the Lions have to contend with in 2018?

Midwestern State is the biggest threat to the Lions, picked to finish second in the conference poll behind the Lions also for the third year in a row, though the two were separated by just a single point in the poll, with A&M-Commerce collecting 201 points and 13 first-place votes to the Mustangs 200 and 10. Last year’s Lone Star Conference champions bring back 18 starters from a season ago, including a staggering 10 defensive starters, as well as the LSC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year in quarterback Layton Rabb. Head coach Bill Maskill, the winningest coach in Mustang history, has found the Lions’ kryptonite, winning 10 of the 12 meetings between the schools since he took over in 2002. The Mustangs will face both participants from last year’s National Championship game, welcoming both West Florida to Wichita Falls on September 8 and the Lions on October 6.

Eastern New Mexico was behind Midwestern State in the poll picking up 142 points, moving up from fifth to fourth to third in the last three years. The Greyhounds are in year two under head coach Kelley Lee, coming off an 8-2 season, earning their first national ranking since the early 2000s and just missing a playoff berth. Eastern returns just 13 starters from a year ago, but seven come from the offensive side of the ball, including most of their offensive line, the key cog in the Greyhounds triple option attack. The Greyhounds will face some heavy competition, but their three toughest foes will all travel to Portales, as last year’s Rocky Mountain (RMAC) champion Colorado Mesa, LSC champion Midwestern State and national champion A&M-Commerce face Eastern in the Greyhounds’ first three home games.

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Eastern New Mexico's head coach Kelley Lee reflects on the 2017 season and what his team will need to do to finish higher than third place in conference in 2018.

Angelo State and Tarleton State finished fourth and fifth respectively, the Rams were six points behind Eastern for third place (136) and six points ahead of the Texans for fifth place (130). Angelo brings back 16 starters from last year’s squad, including the LSC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year in Markus Jones. Will Wagner’s squad finished 6-5 with an appearance in the C.H.A.M.P.S Heart of Texas Bowl last year, and will look to exceed expectations and make their first appearance in the NCAA Playoffs since 2014, as in all five of their losses, they were within two possessions or less of their opponent. The 2018 slate starts off a long way from home, traveling to face Western Oregon, before renewing an old LSC rivalry at Division I Abilene Christian. The Rams also face both Midwestern State and A&M-Commerce on the road in 2018.

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Angelo State head coach Will Wagner talks about his team's 2018 slate of matchups.

The Texans return 13 starters from 2017’s 6-6 squad, but head coach Todd Whitten knew last season was much more promising than the end result turned out, as the team started 4-1 before dropping five of their last seven, including an overtime loss at Midwestern State to finish the season with a Corsicana Bowl appearance. Tarleton will be tested early, facing Delta State at home to open the schedule before traveling to Division I and former LSC foe Stephen F. Austin. The Texans also travel to Angelo, A&M-Commerce, and Midwestern State, but get Eastern New Mexico in Stephenville.

Two years ago, Texas A&M-Kingsville came out of nowhere to finish third in the conference, mere points away from an undefeated season and a playoff berth. But after finishing 4-7 last year, the Javelinas fell to sixth in the preseason poll this year. Daren Wilkinson has 12 returning starters from a year ago, but with so much talent above them, the Javelinas will need to steal some wins to get back near the top of the conference. They have a good shot to begin the season, as they try to win back the Chennault Cup at A&M-Commerce. Eastern New Mexico and Midwestern State will both come to town this season, but the Javelinas travel to Angelo and Tarleton, needing at least two wins of those five opponents to obtain a winning record.

Rounding out the bottom of the poll were West Texas A&M in seventh, UT Permian Basin in eighth and Western New Mexico in ninth. West Texas A&M finished 3-8 under first year head coach Hunter Hughes in 2017, and it maybe a while before the Buffs return to the success they saw under the Carthels. UT Permian Basin, who received a first place vote, is in year three of their program, but Justin Carrigan’s squad still has quite a hill to climb, as they have only won two games each of their first two seasons. Western New Mexico has hired a brand new coach, Frank Tristan, to lead them into the 2018 season, after a disappointing 4-7 finish in 2017.

The Lions are still the big cats of the LSC, but the talent level in the conference is catching up, proving that there are no easy wins, so you better not get caught looking ahead.